USA TODAY US Edition

Security increases to stave off new threat

Intelligen­ce warns of breach by ‘militia group’

- Will Carless

Capitol Police are beefing up security this week at the Capitol as a precaution against potential extremist activity amid a far-right conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump will rise to power on March 4, the original inaugurati­on day for presidents before 1933.

The acting sergeant-at-arms for the House of Representa­tives, Timothy Blodgett, informed members of Congress on Tuesday of the increased security measures. Wednesday morning, Capitol Police released a statement that the department had “obtained intelligen­ce that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4.”

Wednesday afternoon, the House canceled its Thursday session as a precaution.

The extra security was promised two months after the insurrecti­on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, where rioters attacked police and threatened to kill members of Congress and former Vice President Mike Pence. More than a dozen followers of the conspiracy theory movement QAnon have been arrested in connection to the riot, which was organized and carried out by conservati­ves looking to restore Trump to power after his election loss by 7 million votes.

It’s unclear how many QAnon supporters support the March 4 inaugurati­on theory and whether there will be any violence that day in Washington or elsewhere in opposition to President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Blodgett noted “the significan­ce of this date has reportedly declined amongst various groups in recent days,” and there was no indication that groups would travel to the capital. Experts on QAnon said leaders and influencer­s in the movement have dismissed, or at least downplayed, the importance of March 4 and warned their followers not to attend any protests on that date.

“The most prominent and most vocal QAnon promoters are not on board with the March 4 date,” said Travis View, a QAnon researcher and host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast. “Setting up big for big events and flagging that something big is going to happen, and then nothing happens, is a years-long QAnon tradition.”

At least 13 of the 266 arrested in connection with the Capitol attack have subscribed to QAnon theories, according to a USA TODAY analysis of court documents.

The March 4 theory gained traction after Biden’s inaugurati­on Jan. 20, QAnon experts said. When Trump left office on that day, and when the military tribunals and mass arrests of Democrats predicted by QAnon followers didn’t happen, some adherents gave up on their unfounded theories. Others began pushing a new narrative: that Trump would rise again on the nation’s original inaugurati­on date, which was changed by the 20th Amendment.

The theory posits that no American president has been officially inaugurate­d since Ulysses S. Grant in 1869. The conspiracy theorists claim a law was passed in 1871 that secretly turned the United States into a corporatio­n, making all presidents after Grant illegitima­te.

The notion has its roots in the “sovereign citizen” movement, a separate but overlappin­g class of conspiracy theorists that claims the federal government is illegitima­te, sovereign citizens shouldn’t have to pay taxes and sheriffs represent the highest legal power in every county.

It’s not unusual that some in the QAnon community have grasped onto this idea, View said; what is strange is that so many of the group’s leaders have rejected the significan­ce of March 4.

“QAnon is generally a pretty big tent conspiracy theory, where they’re not eager to shoot down the theories of their fellow believers,” View said. “But occasional­ly, there are things that cross the line.”

QAnon promoters don’t want the embarrassm­ent of another failed prediction, he said. They also don’t want to be associated with any criminal activity that might happen in Washington or elsewhere on that date.

The QAnon movement began in 2017 with the discredite­d conspiracy theory that a cabal of powerful, Satan-worshippin­g Democrats, celebritie­s and bankers run a pedophile ring and kill and eat children to obtain a life-giving chemical called adrenochro­me. The original theory claimed that Trump was chosen by military generals to run for president to confront this cabal and throw its members in prison in a cleanup known as “The Storm.”

The genesis of the theory, which borrows heavily from white supremacis­t and anti-Semitic propaganda, was a series of posts written on anonymous internet message boards. The author or authors of the posts, usually written in semi-sensical riddles, signed off their screeds with a “Q,” a reference to a topsecret security clearance used by the federal government.

There haven’t been any internet postings credited to Q since December. QAnon followers have been banned from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and there are signs that the movement is struggling.

Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism in New York, said it would be wrong to think that the QAnon community has given up.

Mayo said she saw a flare-up of hope and attention on message boards and social media linked to the community after Trump’s speech Sunday at the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference. Trump reignited the claim that the election was rigged and hinted that he will run for president in four years.

“There’s renewed hope,” Mayo said. “A lot of people believe, without talking about a specific date, that Trump will be president, and that the military will somehow be involved.”

“There’s renewed hope. A lot of people believe, without talking about a specific date, that Trump will be president, and that the military will somehow be involved.” Marilyn Mayo Senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism

 ?? MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP ?? Doug Jensen, center, and other supporters of President Donald Trump confront U.S. Capitol Police in a hallway outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP Doug Jensen, center, and other supporters of President Donald Trump confront U.S. Capitol Police in a hallway outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

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